1 in 8 Women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
HI, I am the 1 out of 8 women who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. My name is Jen I am 43-year-old women living in Pittsburgh, PA. I am a wife and a mother of two small children. I am also a passionate jewelry designer alongside my sister. Together my sister and I own Elliot Lane jewelry. We just started our company a little over a year ago and have been navigating this new business venture together. We love working together and sharing something together that we are so passionate about. I was excited to start this new venture. All of that changed, my future, our business, life was about to drastically changed for me and my family.
It has been almost a year since my diagnosis. I have been wanting to write this blog for a while now. I am by no means a professional writer, nor am I a professional blogger, but I felt strongly about sharing my story. Sitting down and sharing my story was harder than I thought it would be. I was struggling with putting my experience on paper, like it would make it real, although it was as real as real can get. Writing it down forced me to relive all of the fears and unknowns that I was forced to face when I was first diagnosed. My hope in telling my story is that it may help other women who are recently diagnosed, actively fighting or have bravely become survivors. I also hope in telling my story that I can heal myself and find some peace within this journey. Here's my story...
I was 42 and had scheduled my first mammogram. I would have scheduled one at 40, but I was pregnant with my second child, and it was right at the beginning of Covid. So, a lot was going on and honestly a mammogram wasn't on my mind. About a week before my mammogram, I started having symptoms in my right breast. I was experiencing redness of the breast, swelling, warm to the touch, nipple retraction and skin dimpling. It was like my body was preparing my mind for what was about to happen. After my mammogram, I was sent in for an ultrasound and biopsy immediately. As I was laying there with the cold gel and hard pressure of the probe on my breast and armpit, I couldn't help but to try to read the ultrasound technicians face in hope it would tell me what she was seeing. After she had finished, I asked, "So is breast cancer?" Her response was "Yes I do believe it is breast cancer." I cried; I cried hard. I somehow managed to pull myself together and walk out of the room, out of the hospital and into my car. I kept thinking that maybe the doctor was wrong, and the biopsy would come back negative, maybe she just got it all wrong. But I knew, I knew the truth. Now I had to just wait for the results.
It was October 24th, just 5 days before my son's 2nd birthday. I received the phone call. The phone call that changed everything. I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Invasive Carcinoma, nuclear grade 3 HER-2/NEU Negative Breast Cancer. Invasive ductal carcinoma, also known as infiltrating ductal carcinoma, is a type of breast cancer that begins in the milk ducts and then invades the surrounding breast tissue. It accounts for approximately 80% of all breast cancer cases. But in my case unfortunately the cancer was found in my lymph nodes, meaning it has spread from its original origin. My breast cancer was aggressive. It is aggressive because my cancer is fueled by estrogen. Estrogen-fueled breast cancer, also known as hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, is a type of breast cancer that is influenced by the hormone estrogen. This means that estrogen plays a significant role in the growth and development of cancer cells in the breast. So, it was vital to start treatments immediately.
I immediately met with my oncologist and breast surgeon, and my treatment plan included 24 weeks of chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation and precautionary medication to stop the cancer from recurring. It was a lot of information. I had a long road ahead of me and I had no time to cry and have a pity party for myself. My fight began.
Chemotherapy started quickly. Before I knew it, I was sitting in that chair for hours with a needle in my chemo port (a chemo port is a small implantable device that goes under your skin, in my case, my upper chest, and a thin silicone tube connects the device to a vein. This device reduces the number of needle sticks necessary for blood draws, infusions and injections. It can help make chemotherapy safer and just more comfortable) and just hoping that I wouldn't get super sick. 24 weeks of chemo is no joke. My body was being poisoned on a weekly basis. I had little to no energy. I literally lost all of my hair, my eyebrows, the little fuzz on your face, everywhere. I just looked sickly. On a positive note, I had very little nausea and never threw up and never had mouth sores, which are big side effects the particular chemotherapy drugs I was on. During chemo they give you fluids and several medications to ease these side effects. It is crazy what medications they have to help cancer patients with their side effects. The symptoms I experienced were extreme fatigue and loss of appetite. And the biggest side affect was losing all of my hair. That was hard. I wasn't worried how I was going to feel or look, but it was hard to watch my kids see their mother look "sick". That was one symptom I could not shield them from. But like all kids, they were resilient as hell and learned to love my new bald head😊. As a family we managed to live with my new look and our new way of living. My husband throughout my treatments was truly amazing. That man took over all of the housework and made sure I got all of the rest I needed when needed. He made sure the kids got to do all of the fun summer things like swimming, playing outside and all the amusement parks, the things I could just not physically do. He showed me that I was not alone and the most important thing for me to focus on was fighting the cancer.
The next step after my chemotherapy was to have a mastectomy. After researching and thinking long and hard I opted for just a single mastectomy. Although the cancer was only in my right breast, I was ready to get the other one taken off just in case. But in the end, I decided to just do the single mastectomy. Honestly the recovery from a double mastectomy just seemed undoable with having a toddler at home. Along with my mastectomy I was also having a lymphadenectomy, to remove the lymph nodes that were cancerous. The cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, which is the gateway of spreading the cancer throughout my body. My recovery went well from the surgery. I took about 6 weeks to fully heal, although I still have some numbness. After completely healing, I then went into 6 weeks of radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy is used to treat many types of cancer. It can be used to treat many types of cancer either alone or in combination with other treatments. Radiation therapy is a common treatment option for breast cancer patients. It involves the use of high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. This therapy can be used before surgery to shrink tumors, after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells, or as the primary treatment for advanced cases. But for my case and my particular breast cancer, radiation was used to get rid of any excess cancer cells that may be remaining after the chemo and mastectomy. When I went to my radiation treatments, I was laid on a table, placed in the same exact position, every day. The machines were large, loud and intimidating. I laid on a table, exposed and cold, not knowing what to expect. Dring my treatment I had to take in deep breaths and hold while the radiation was being activated. Deep Inspiration Breath Hold (DIBH) is a technique used while breast cancer patients receive radiation treatment. Holding a deep breath while receiving radiation therapy is one technique used to help reduce the amount of radiation that reaches the heart. The treatments were short and painless. The invisible beams were painless. My skin in the beginning just began to tan; darken. Towards the last few weeks of treatment my skin started to burn and blister. The best way I can explain it is having a severe sun burn and still going out every day in the hot sun and repeatedly getting sun burned in the same spot. It hurt. It burned. It sucked. Thankfully after my last treatment it healed quickly. Soon after my weeks of radiation I immediately scheduled my oophorectomy, surgery to remove my ovaries.
Removing my ovaries is the next step in my treatment. Because the cancer is fueled by estrogen, removing my ovaries will put me into menopause, which will stop my body from producing estrogen, which will hopefully stop my cancer from returning in the future. This will unfortunately put me into menopause fast and fiercely. My future treatments will also include chemo in pill form and a hormone blocker for 10 years. I will meet with my oncologist soon to discuss what that all entails. My last step in this process will be reconstruction. Which I am looking forward to because honestly I'm tired of being lopsided😊
This journey has not been easy. It has been terrifying, exhausting, and transformative. It has affected not only myself, but my husband, my children and both our family and friends. Cancer has put our lives on hold. It has affected us emotionally, physically, mentally and financially. Cancer has not only taken away a physical piece of my body, but it has put a constant fear that it could come back again. Cancer is a part of me and my family and that will never change. But I am thankful for being able to fight and to have the strength to kick cancers ass. I am also so blessed to have family and amazing friends who have helped us through this journey and have been there when we needed them the most. I am beyond thankful for my medical team that has made me feel safe and has literally saved my life. I am thankful I had a mammogram when I did. If I would have waited another year, I don't think I would have the positive outcome that I have had. I am cancer free today. I can't help but think that if I would have gone 1 year earlier for a mammogram, I would have caught it earlier with early detection. I truly believe things happen because they're supposed to happen. At least that mind set has gotten me through some hard times.
As a woman who was diagnosed with Breast Cancer at a young age without any history in my family, I beg of you to schedule your mammogram appointment today. Make it your priority. You are a priority. It is easy for us women to push our needs aside and say, "I will schedule it next month". Next thing you know it's a year later. Early detection can save your life. So please go get your boobs checked. Click the link below for more information or help with breast cancer. The Susan G. Komen Foundation's "mission is to save lives by meeting the most critical needs in our communities and investing in breakthrough research to prevent and cure breast cancer".
Navigating a new business while also battling breast cancer has been a challenge. But growing this business has helped me through this battle as well. It has given me something to focus on.
When your purchase any of our Breast Cancer Awareness bracelets Elliot Lane will donate 25% of the proceeds to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Gift a warrior you know that has been recently diagnosed, actively fighting or has survived her battle with breast cancer.